Jhoan Urena, 3B, Mets (Short-season Brooklyn)
Having spent the last three seasons in the lowest levels of the organization, the 20-year-old is not only ready for his first full-season assignment, but also seemingly poised for a breakout onto the national scene. Urena sneaks up on you, mostly of his bad body. Peel the onion, though, and you find flashes of loose hands and impressive bat-to-ball ability. Urena also demonstrates an advanced approach for his age that bodes well for when he makes the jump to the South Atlantic League next season. It remains to be seen whether Urena can stick at third, he has progressed there. Urena’s a player to keep an eye heading into 2015, and one who can start making noise as a rising hitter within the lower levels of the system. –Chris Mellen
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Would you rather have the best GM or the best prospect for the future of your franchise? And more importantly, how would you determine the answer?
There’s this captivating scene in the movie Moneyball: Over archival footage of Dan Duquette presenting a Red Sox jersey to Johnny Damon at a press-filled event in Fenway Park, a Brad Pitt voiceover explains how the A’s will chart a new direction in player valuation and roster construction. The scene is supposed to poke fun at the Red Sox, Jonah Hill having just delivered a soliloquy about Damon’s true value and how he’ll never be worth $7.5 million. But meanwhile in Boston, a team of analysts, economists, front office folks, and consultants had determined that Damon’s value on and off the field would far exceed his salary.
The dramatized scene lays down the “new way” vs. “old way” narrative playing out over the course of the film. What it really does, though, is underscore the fact that teams value players differently.
What are we talking about when we talk about disappointment?
"(A box score) doesn't tell how big you are, what church you attend, what color you are, or how your father voted in the last election. It just tells what kind of baseball player you were on that particular day." –Branch Rickey
If only it were still that simple. Back when Rickey was making personnel decisions for major-league organizations, and those last three traits were actually factors in how people were judged, it was a lot easier to evaluate a ballplayer without knowing too much about him. But with phones and tablets now as essential to the scouting toolbox as a stopwatch, with three different prospect rankings appearing on players’ Baseball-Reference pages, with signing bonuses public (and publicy debated), with the conversation about some players’ draft stock now rivaling the lifespan and intrigue of a presidential primary, that’s no longer the case.
Colin Moran is not a bad baseball player. The University of North Carolina doesn’t recruit bad baseball players. Bad baseball players don’t get popped sixth overall in the major-league draft. And bad baseball players don’t hit .296 between High- and Double-A, as Moran did in 2014, his first full year among the professional ranks.
Yet to hear many evaluators talk—to hear me at certain points during this season—you might think Moran is just terrible. Throughout a season of sitting behind home plate, I saw no player inspire more head shakes, shoulder shrugs and eye rolling than Moran. "How was this guy the sixth-best amateur player in the country last year,” I heard from more than one scout. I wasn't terribly kind in my initial write-up of Moran, saying "I came away feeling very underwhelmed with the player."
The prospect team tackles the year's disappointments, including Aaron Sanchez, Mark Appel, and Luke Jackson.
Alberto Tirado, RHP, Blue Jays (Short-season Vancouver)
Tirado entered 2014 the no. 3 prospect in Toronto's system and no. 76 on our Top 101, fueled by strong reports on his stuff. It was noted, though that his command needed work and the delivery was inconsistent. Fast forward to the end of this season and those highlighted areas are exactly what came to the surface. We need to remember Tirado is only 19 and developmental paths are often jagged when isolating short-term sections. I’m labeling Tirado's 2014 a “disappointment” more because his present weaknesses were too much for the strengths to overcome than due to a long-term decline in forecast. Still, some of the initial shine has diminished and warts were exposed. We now have concrete areas of focus when evaluating Tirado next season. –Chris Mellen
Austin Hedges, C, Padres (Double A San Antonio)
Hedges was the top-ranked catcher in the minors entering 2014, and he maintained that title when the midseason Top 50 rolled out in July. While the Junipero Serra (San Juan Capistrano, CA) prep product continues to outstrip his contemporaries on the defensive side of the ball, Hedges ran into a buzzsaw on the offensive side in the form of Texas League pitching.
The Mariners' top pick talks about transitioning from catcher to outfield--and from prep baseball to the pros.
Those who sit in this Loge Level openly admit to having an unprofessional bias favoring pitchers and catchers. That mindset really finds itself challenged when the realization hits that a talented prospect can work on either end of the battery but instead heads in a different direction. Twins no. 1 pick Nick Gordon was the top high school bat grabbed in the 2014 draft, but don’t overlook that he once touched 94 on the mound. Then there’s Alex Jackson, who was up next at sixth overall to the Mariners, and left the prep ranks as the nation's top catcher. A pitcher and a catcher are now a shortstop and an outfielder? How can this be? I guess we’ll get over it—after all, the brats and dogs are really unforgettable at the stand at the top of aisle 105, and this always seems to distract us.
Having a chance to speak with Jackson in June 2013 at the Perfect Game National Showcase, and then again this past Sunday night as part of the SiriusXM show MLB Roundtrip with Baseball Prospectus presented by Perfect Game, provided a unique perspective into this prospect’s development. First of all, the move that I sarcastically scolded above was a move that did not come as a huge surprise. He ran a 6.83 60 at the showcase and threw 98 mph from the outfield as well, proving as a catcher that he was truly athletic enough to move. But heading into his senior year at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo HS, he was all in on wearing the gear.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Rays (Durham, AAA): 6 IP, 3 H, R, 6 BB, 6 K. The once highly touted southpaw has never quite put it all together, struggling with command and at times control thanks to poor mechanics that he's never been able to iron out. Now 25 and having repeated Triple-A for a second straight season, he hasn't made the progress the Rays were hoping for for when they received him from the Royals last offseason. At this point, he's not much more than organizational depth.
The Dodgers, and Kershaw, put some space between them and their competition; the Cardinals are building a cushion; a Twin struck out more than 10 batters; and baseball happened in all other corners of this great nation of ours.
The Dodgers came to AT&T Park for a three-game showdown with a two-game lead in the West. A sweep would bump Los Angeles from the top of the standings. Any other outcome would keep the Giants in second place.
Ten prospects who surprised the scouting staff in 2014.
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Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Henry Owens and Rio Ruiz.
Austin Barnes, 2B, Marlins (Jacksonville, AA): 3-7, 2 R, 2B, HR, K. I love players who have strong K:BB rates, and I love players with positional versatility, so it’s no wonder that Barnes has become one of my favorite prospects. His tools don’t jump out at you and his ceiling isn’t terribly high, but there is some pop in his bat and he controls the strike zone incredibly well, walking more often this season than he struck out. He was blocked within the Marlins organization as a catcher (which is the only reason he started back in the Florida State League to begin with), so after a mid-season promotion, he’s seen time at both second and third base as well as behind the plate. He’s got just enough power to keep pitchers honest, good bat control, and positional flexibility that includes being able to catch, which is a combination that will have significant value on a major-league roster.
Duane Underwood, RHP, Cubs (Kane County, A-): 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K. Right now, Underwood features a mid-90s fastball and not a whole lot else, but there’s a lot there to dream on. He’s got good size, but he needs to take major steps forward with the command of his fastball and the development of his secondary pitches. He’s still a high-risk prospect because of the gap between his present abilities and his ceiling, but as a potential mid-rotation starter, he’s a guy the Cubs will be patient with.